BOOKINGS have opened for events in this year’s Exmoor Dark Skies Festival, which is now in its seventh year.
The festival, which runs from October 13 to 29, is being sponsored by broadband provider Airband UK.
It has more than 60 events suitable for all ages and is one of the UK’s largest such festivals, helping to make Exmoor one of the top places to visit to learn about the starry skies in what is a designated International Dark Sky Reserve.
Exmoor National Park Authority’s Katrina Munro, who organises the festival, said: “Events are always popular, with many selling out in advance, so early booking is advised for the range of indoor and outdoor events taking place all around Exmoor.
“Many local businesses and organisations, such as the National Trust, are key to helping us ensure there is a wide variety of events focussing on wildlife and wellbeing as well as astronomy and stargazing.”
New events for 2023 include a ‘Moonlit Walk for Exmoor’ around Wimbleball Lake which will raise funds for three Exmoor charities.
Families and local youth and scout groups are being encouraged to take part and raise sponsorship for the fully marshalled nine-mile walk, setting off as the sun goes down.
Other new events this year are ‘Yoga under the Stars’, ‘E-Bike Night Rides’ and a ‘Dark Sky Singalong’.
An ‘Exmoor Star Baker’ competition is being hosted in Porlock on October 21 and professional and amateur cooks of all ages from all over Exmoor are being invited to bake a cake inspired by Exmoor’s dark skies.
During the afternoon the public will be able to view all the cakes, browse some local produce and craft stalls, and hear a some talks about the night sky and nocturnal wildlife.
This year’s planetarium sessions will take place in Tiverton and Dunster.
Park authority learning and engagement officer Sophie Tyler said: “A session in the mobile planetarium is an incredible experience for all ages and is the perfect way to inspire a lifelong fascination with the skies above us and a deeper understanding of our place in space.”
Local astronomy guides Liz, from Moor Wild Experiences, and Jenny, from Wild about Exmoor, will be guiding the public around the night skies at events throughout the festival.
Popular astronomer Jo Richardson, from Space Detectives, is hosting evenings in Exford, Dulverton, Simonsbath, North Molton, Oare, and Kentisbury, as well as running children’s activities for the ‘Family Astro Party’ in Horner Farm.
Astrophysicist Professor Roger Davies, from Oxford University, is presenting a lecture at Petroc College, Tiverton, and is also a speaker at a special event in Porlock Weir Hotel.
Wildlife experts will be giving talks and experienced walk leaders, including national park rangers, will escort perople safely under some of the darkest skies in the country.
Visitors can book a stargazing break in Simonsbath House Hotel or Dunster’s Yarn Market Hotel, or stay in an accredited ‘Dark Sky Friendly’ business while exploring Exmoor and attending a variety of events.
Dobsonian Sky Watcher telescopes can be hired from National Park Centres, where Celestron telescopes and binoculars are also on sale.
There is also a ‘Dark Sky Discovery Trail’, a self-led two-mile walk under the darkest skies which is an adventure at any time of year, with 360-degree views and virtually free from light pollution.
During the festival, the national park is hosting a semi-guided trail along the route with astronomers on hand to guide participants through the night sky.
The top prize in this year’s festival competition for children aged up to 16 years is a Starsense Explorer Telescope given by Celestron.
Entrants are asked to capture the wonders of Exmoor’s nocturnal wildlife, landscapes, or stargazers at night in a painting, drawing, or other creative medium.
Full details of the festival are available by visiting https://www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/stargazing.
A free printed festival programme will be available from late August from National Park Centres in Dulverton, Dunster, and Lynmouth.